Rolfer, Dancer, Teacher

Week 2 of assisting is in the books. Made a lot of headway, a few energetic ups and downs but all in all feeling pretty damn successful and building a lot of momentum. Ending it up with a quiet weekend in Lafayette and getting ready to throw down another great week as we get into the middle sessions in the 10-series.

Day 8 – August 22

UC516_Day_8_Coffee_Small_ThingsMonday was my first chance to watch Neal do a demo session following my not-so-great first session on Thursday. I’d spent the weekend occasionally mulling over what I could recall from past demo sessions but wasn’t coming up with much that I could say for sure. So today I finally got to get fresh eyes on a demo session with the intent to learn for myself about demoing instead of working and I picked up as much as I could, particularly on how and when the quiet spaces came into play.

My own quiet space for the day is cast in today’s picture. I was up early before class and figured I’d take a trip in early to sit at Tod’s Espresso Cafe around the corner from the Institute. Getting my first for-here order there I noticed that they use a wax pencil to mark the saucers with the order and name. It struck me as cool and a smart idea and was something I don’t think I’ve seen at any other coffee shops so far. So it was a good reminder for me about appreciating the little things and what I call “honoring the moments of brilliance” in the learning process.

Day 9 – August 23

UC516_Day_9_Straight_to_bedTuesday I finally got to redeem myself. After the 5 days between my first and second demo session, we got to get into session 2. This time I was prepared a little differently and my client and I had already discussed a few ways to alter my approach that seemed like they’d serve everybody. So a few deep breaths and dive in to the session with a focus on recovering and getting momentum going in a good direction. Thankfully, it worked!

The session went really well, the client and I started to connect better and I felt myself start to relax into the flow of the session and start drawing on my whole skill set again rather than trying to do the session I thought people wanted to see. The session felt just fundamentally better than the first round and feedback from all sides was a lot better. That said, my energy just totally tanked afterwards. Whether it was just relief or relief mixed with other stuff, I’m not sure, but I napped through lunch, struggled to keep my eyes open during the second half of class, and basically went home and straight to bed at 8pm that night.

Day 10 – August 24

UC516_Day_10_Grey_DayKind of a grey and overcast day today, really the first one since I’ve been here. Nothing particularly substantial to report for this day. I’m starting to feel comfortable in the rhythm of wake up, get to class, do class things, go home, relax and sleep, next day. I booked a car rental today for most of the remaining time I’ll be there, which feels like it should open up some new possibilities. Much as I’m enjoying class, I do find as I settle in a bit I’m starting to want for some time to do things other than just bouncing between the Rolf Institute and home.

Class definitely felt a bit lethargic today. My energy started there after sleeping about 11 hours but slowly kept perking up more and more through the day. Starting to get excited for my third session with my client and hoping to have two good sessions to set a solid trend away from the funky start.

Day 11 РAugust 25

Things really started coming together today.ūüôā My third session with my client went great and we are starting to build some momentum not just on the educational side for the class but in terms of our rapport and playing around with some challenging movement work during the sessions which I think will greatly benefit everyone’s experience. Starting to find a bit more flow both with demonstrating and with providing input and support during the student sessions. Going through our final sessions for the week it seemed like everyone’s energy was coming up in bits and pieces and there’s more freedom of exchange in information between clients and students and teachers.

Around lunchtime during the class day, I got a message from one of the local Bal dancers letting me know there was a small thing happening at Waterloo in Louisville that night. As I was still 24 hours from having a car, I managed to bum a ride from one of the Boulder dancers and got in a few hours of dance and camaraderie with some lovely folks I haven’t seen in about a year now but hopefully will be seeing (and dancing) more of in the next 5 weeks.

Day 12 – August 26

UC516_Day_12_DoggiesTook a house-sitting gig for the weekend looking after a friend’s dogs (and chickens, and butterball cat) while she and her husband are out of town. I’d set my car pick-up to be 10:30 this morning so I could get over and have an early day, but instead they told me when I got there that I couldn’t pick it up until 4. So a few hours of napping and running errands filled my day until I was able to pick up the car and drive out to Lafayette and meet up with the pups. Nothing particularly challenging or intriguing about today, just handling stuff, getting a car (definitely a relief), and then hanging out with these two for the rest of the evening.

Day 13 – August 27

UC516_Day_13_Nice_NephewGot down to Westminster today to see my sister and my niece and nephew. After being unsurprisingly woken up early by the dogs I got breakfast, took them for a walk around the lake, then headed over to my sister’s. We hung out for a bit, took the kids to the park, flew kites, etc. and this was my first time getting to meet the younger of the two. Spent some time minding the kids (mostly watching Daniel Tiger) while my sister ran a few errands then I headed back in time to make sure the critters got fed and the chickens got put to bed for the night.

Dinner ended up being a lovely solo time at the bar at The Post Brewing Co. A few nice craft beers with a buttermilk cheddar biscuit, hot chicken, creamed cabbage, and a whoopie pie about the size of my fist. Then home to relax with the dogs and get to bed early for some much-needed rest.

Day 14 РAugust 28

UC516_Day_14_Sleepy_Dogs

This was pretty much my view and activity level for the day. After the dogs woke me up early, I got everyone fed then went back to sleep for a while. Took the pups for a walk then they promptly fell asleep at my feet for most of the rest of the day while I watched some movies, did some writing, etc.

This will be the start of the story of my first time assisting in a Unit 3 basic Rolfing¬ģ training. I just completed the first week of my 7 weeks here. The class actually runs for 8 but I did not come in until the second week because to do so would have given me only 2 weeks in between my trip to Scotland and the start of class. My goal for relating this training is to have one defining picture per day and a small-medium blurb on the day’s events. I’m hoping this will allow me to keep up with posting weekly both to stay in touch with friends and clients back home and also to not end up swamped three months down the road trying to relate a 7-week experience into a couple thousand words. So, here goes…

Day 0 – August 14

UC516_Day_0_Burger

Following a couple late nights of concert-going with friends, I boarded a plane from RDU at 9:30 AM and landed at DEN about 11:15 local time. Although I missed the AB bus by a hair, a friendly woman who was arriving for a flight offered me her day pass which seemed like a good little bit of luck to kick off my time here. Bussed it to Boulder, met my host, took a nap, then went out for a bit of burger therapy at Larkburger to help get landed and grounded before the training starts tomorrow.

Day 1 – August 15

UC516_Day_1_Class_SignGot up early on Day 1 of the training to meet Neal at Lucile’s down near Pearl Street Mall. Lucile’s holds a special little spot in my heart for doing grits pretty damn well so far from home. I didn’t actually find it until I was almost done with either my Unit 1 or 2 training, I can’t recall at this point.

Neal and I had a good discussion over a hearty breakfast then headed up to class. Day 1 was a lot of talking and a little bit of curious energy for me coming into a group that had already been working together for a week. I jokingly posted this photo on Facebook saying I had achieved opening band status and showed up a week late for my first rockstar move. Mentally I felt oddly at home in the classroom and started getting my footing adding in thoughts without stepping on Neal’s toes. Physically, my GI system was doing not-so-happy things, though I’m unsure whether it was something I ate or my body was more nervous than my brain was letting on.

Day 2 – August 16

UC516_Day_2_AltarOn Day 2, the class was complete. One student had been delayed returning from a wedding over the weekend and didn’t make it in until Tuesday. So we had postponed setting up the class altar until that morning. There were a lot of strong ideas and emotions fit onto this small space and Neal and I were both a bit surprised by how intense the setting up was. My contributions were my now requisite class offering of Escazu chocolate bars and the knit Eeyore that one of my classmates from Brazil had given me.

I also did my first short demo session on one of the students (neck work, mostly stuff I learned from Jan) and in the evening the students got to meet their clients for the first time with some time to chat, do intake, and make some plans.

Day 3 – August 17

UC516_Day_3_WaitingToday’s picture was taken out at a coffee shop as I waited for my client to show up for a meeting before class started. Our first session would be the next day but because she wasn’t available in the evening, I had offered to meet her for coffee in the morning to talk about the work ahead and any questions she had. I had thought about asking how she’d feel getting a photo together but honestly was so in flow talking to her that the thought didn’t even occur to me until after I’d headed to class.

Neal and the students all had their first session today and Neal and I both noted how it felt like it shifted the momentum of the class to be able to finally get to work after 2 very long feeling days of talking. And again I felt a little bit behind the group as I wouldn’t get to work with my client until tomorrow.

Day 4 – August 18

UC516_Day_4_Closing_DownHad my first client demo session today. I think so far I’d been feeling like there was a sort of beginner’s luck going with the class. Good instructor who I seem to get along with, a young but mature class all of whom seem really solid in their skills, and my demo client seemed like a great candidate for being a class model. However, that luck took a stumble on my first demo as I talked WAY more than necessary. After finishing my demo and receiving that feedback from basically everyone in class I was… a bit downtrodden, but mostly fine with it. All-in-all a recoverable mistake and it’s been a good misstep to chew on the rest of the week in terms of how I’d communicate this aspect differently to someone else doing a demo for the first time.

Student sessions in the afternoon went great and I’m getting a better sense of how to offer advice to students. It’s also clear that the ability to see a whole classroom like I can in dance is going to take a while to transfer over to the Rolfing classroom. Nonetheless I ended the first week’s class mostly happy, grateful to be there, and doubly grateful for the 3 day weekend.

Day 5 – August 19

UC516_Day_5_Jims_DoorFriday morning came earlier than I would have liked with a 10:30 (I know, boo-hoo, so early /sarcasm) appointment for a session with Jim Asher. One of my goals to make the most of this trip is to get some work from some of the master Rolfers in the Boulder area. I’d seen Jim do a demo working with a child at one of the annual meetings but otherwise had no exposure to his work. At this point I’m not going for aches and pains but for optimizing mechanics, continuing to open more freedom in my movement, and just to keep learning about the work experientially. I don’t know how to encapsulate the session well at this point other than to say it continues to amaze me how much power I find in the touch of practitioners who’ve been Rolfing longer than I’ve been alive. It both gives me something to aspire to and gives me something to be awfully patient with as I expect there’s just no substitute for time and practice to achieve those sorts of levels.

The rest of the day was filled with glorious napping.ūüôā

Day 6 – August 20

UC516_Day_6_Twin_LakesDay 6 took me back to the Rolf Institute for lunch with Thomas Walker, my original Unit 2 instructor. Thomas was in town to teach a workshop and sticking around through next week for a faculty meeting. While I’m not in a huge rush to assist again, I did want to get on his radar about being available down the line and we talked some shop around the new course series he’s teaching which I had taken part in last summer.

I went for a walk around the Twin Lakes near the Institute and relieved some distinct memories of walking that area in my Unit 2 when I got overloaded a time or two and had to find a way to settle my energy. I had intended to take the bus home, but for whatever reason, switched up and kept hiking the 5-6 miles back into Boulder. A quick check of the movies playing diverted me to go see Kubo and the Two Strings, then grabbed some dinner and headed home with slightly blistered feet and slightly more reddened face (I made sure to put sunscreen in my bag after I got home, oops).

Day 7 – August 21

UC516_Day_7_Pack_For_AdventureNoting that I had failed to pack¬†a few obvious staples like a water bottle, umbrella, or any shoes that weren’t sandals, it seemed like Sunday was going to be a good day to take stock and restock. I had come out with some intention of restocking my wardrobe from the vintage stores of Boulder and Denver and it occurred to me I might as well go a step further and get some gear like a new pair of hiking boots since the pair I’d had since Boy Scouts had bit the dust a few years back. So a few errands later, I had some new gear and a pair of hiking boots on order with REI since they didn’t have my size in stock.

Following this and some chill time, I met a colleague who was in town for Thomas’ workshop down at Pearl Street Mall for dinner and some tasty beverages. A few hours of chit-chat about my assisting, her class, and some nice time walking around the mall then she hopped a bus back to Gunbarrel and I took a leisurely walk home through twilight Boulder.

In early April I attended Bruce Schonfeld‘s Structural Visceral Integration for the Low Back, Pelvis, and Abdomen class in LA on my way down to Advanced Training in Brazil. Admittedly, it was a class that I signed up for first and foremost because I needed the credits. I had been given a pass on my prerequisites for Advanced Training in Brazil and was one RISI Manipulation Credit shy of fulfilling those requirements and being able to graduate. So I’d been on the lookout for anything I could do to complete that credit between Modules 1 and 2 and Bruce’s class in LA the weekend on my way down to Brazil was a great option.

I’ve taken several of Jon Martine’s Neural Manipulation classes in the past 6 years and gotten a rudimentary feel for working with viscera from his Neural 2 class so Bruce’s class felt like a good way to further that knowledge. And around the time I signed up for the class it seemed like I started seeing a number of low back pain classes that seemed to involve a visceral component. So with that lead-up in mind I arrived in class ready to soak up any tips I could.

*Except* for the the fact that I also arrived in LA Friday morning sans my US Passport very much needed for my flight to Brazil Sunday evening…

As I had gone through TSA at the airport I realized I had forgot to put my passport in my carry-on. Thinking I had left it in my checked luggage from packing, I mostly let the thought linger calmly through my flight out to LA. Upon arrival to LA, I got my checked back, found the zipper partially open, and with no passport to be found. So, “shitshitshitshitshit”, I go ahead and get to my airbnb and spend several frantic hours calling every airport along my way, TSA, the State Department, and the Brazillian Embassy in LA all to no avail.

I remember putting my passport with my bag but not taking it back out but on the off chance I’d left it at my house which is currently totally packed up and listed for sale. After realizing nobody with a key to my house is in town I call a friend who just happens to be on the road 10 minutes away from my house. Because the house is up for sale, there’s a lockbox on the door and it turns out I’d taken the passport out and put it in a dresser drawer. With an hour or two to spare my friend is able to get the passport to FedEx and overnight it to me.

All this to say that I came in to the training pretty wound up and Bruce was cool, calm, and helpful with my flitting in and out at first making calls. And the staff at Yo San University was great and helping me make sure FedEx could make the delivery and what directions to give them. And much as it wasn’t exactly my plan to show up feeling crazy and freaked that I might not be able to make it to Brazil, I think it speaks well to a class when the instructors can roll with that, help you settle, and move along into the material.

Day 1 – Friday Evening – Assements and Feet

Day 1 started in the evening with about 4 hours of class time from 5-9. We talked a bit about what we’d be working with, introduced ourselves, etc. The class was about 1/3 Structural Integrators and 2/3 folks coming more from a craniosacral or Barral type background.

Our first work was in the vein of doing structural assessments. Something I’m pretty familiar with from the Rolfing world of standing up in front of a room full of people in one’s underwear and having them comment on what they see structurally and functionally. It’s curious to me how quickly a group assessment of a single model tends to move into “negative” territory and it can definitely be challenging and deflating to stand there while a whole group of your peers just points out everything they see off in your structure. That said, I think Bruce actually did a nice job of influencing the assessments to stay more balanced, looking for both strengths and areas for improvement.

Then it was onto working on feet, testing mobility in the myriad number of joints in the feet and simple ways to help mobilize them. I’ve had similar ideas taught in basic Rolfing training classes, but taught for beginners in a fairly protocol-oriented fashion. So it was fun and interesting to see Bruce’s take, some of the ways he made testing more efficient, more interactive, etc. Day 1 ended, I sauntered quietly home, put myself to bed, and set an overly early alarm to make sure I could eat and be back at Yo San early in case FedEx arrived before the staff did.

Day 2 – Saturday – Legs into Viscera

Day 2 began bright and early for me with an air of cautious optimism and trepidation about my passport. It arrived at the first break and I would spend pretty much the next two days repeatedly double checking that it was in my pocket or backpack. Each time, it was. In hindsight it was a good lesson about how the stories we build in moments of panic can stick with us long after the initial upset.

The work of the first half of day 2 took us into the legs, hips, and pelvic floor. One of the things Bruce often repeated through the class was “I’d rather underwhelm someone and lose them as a client than to overwhelm them and cause them harm.” Given the range of skill levels and experience from freshly minted Rolfers to 30 year veteran bodyworkers I found this to be a valuable thought as we dove into sensitive areas and heavily used muscles.

After lunch (I decided to get my obligatory In-N-Out Burger for the trip), we delved deeper into the outer layers of the visceral compartment. Bruce had a good number of videos at this point taking us through dissected territory of the structures and viscera we’d be working with. A few groans could be heard from those with more sensitive constitutions to the imagery but for me it was fascinating and great for getting a starter image of where we would be working.

For me, one of the more valuable factors for this class was the way Bruce allowed the practice time to evolve. Shorter 2 and 3 day CE classes have a tendency to be a very show-and-copy based model of education, what I call “Here’s the thing, do the thing, here’s the next thing, do the next thing, etc.” This class encouraged experimentation and treating more like we would in practice, following the tissue and working with our intuition or inspiration moreso than following a protocol. It made for a nice mix of experiences too going from trading with highly experienced practitioners to some very new bodyworkers and being able to adjust what we were doing and how we were learning accordingly.

Day 3 – Deeper into the Viscera

The final day was all visceral material in terms of new territory. More videos, more work into the abdominal space, talking about organs and their general placement and exploring ways to test and move them.

Click the Omentum Tree to see more about the anatomical Greater Omentum

Click the Omentum Tree to see more about the anatomical Greater Omentum

The anatomy portions lead to one of my revelatory moments in the class which was the existence of two anatomical structures called the greater and lesser omentums. They are a sort of pair of fatty curtains hanging off of the greater and lesser curves of the stomach that act as a part of the body’s immune system among other things. It was one of those ah-ha sort of moments realizing that this piece existed in the body helped to create an ability to feel them when working on someone. And while it could be all in my head, it did seem that two weeks later in my advanced training course I ran into an adhesion in a client that felt exactly like what I imagined to be the greater omentum and wouldn’t seem to fit with any other visceral structures that I was aware of.

Sunday seemed to be a closed for lunch day for a number of the local restaurants so I ended up at In-N-Out again, this time with a classmate which ended up being a really great conversation. I spent the afternoon noticing how some practitioners would dive into visceral space faster or slower or more or less aggressively than each other and feeling out my own preferences for these factors. At the same time, I was playing with how to receive and benefit from a range of touch instead of fighting the fact that someone I was trading with might bring a different default touch than my own.

My flight to Brazil left at 9 on Sunday, about 3 hours after the class was due to end. As we eased into the afternoon of the class, I did find myself wondering for a bit if receiving loads of visceral work before an 11 hour international flight was the best idea given the occasional tendency for visceral work to “get things moving” in the digestive and beyond departments. I had a nice integrative session at the end of the day though and then Bruce offered to give me a ride to the airport as he was picking someone up shortly after class which afforded a nice chance to talk through a few more things and put a nice sort of personal closure on the workshop for me.

Aftermath – Anatomy as my Growing Edge

I picked up a decent number of little tricks or ideas from this workshop, but my biggest take away seemed to be that anatomy knowledge is a big part of my growing edge. As I’ve added understanding both of the existence of structures, but also the wide variability of human anatomy, it seems to be a major factor in my work improving lately. As such, this class lead me pretty quickly into the idea that I wanted to take on a cadaver dissection lab next.

I’d heard about them for years since the early stages of Rolfing training and Gil Hedley was always referred to as being a great source for anatomy workshops. Bruce had referenced his dissection labs several times over as well so the next week after finishing this training, I was looking up workshops with Gil and booking a trip to St. Andrews, Scotland to study with him. In some ways, I think it might be one of the most telling things about the usefulness of Bruce’s workshop that almost everyone in class was already planning a next training to build off of the class by the end of it.

Rolfing Camp At The Beach to be exact

Rolfing Camp At The Beach to be exact

As I begin writing this, I am lying awake on my last night in Brazil after three and a half weeks of work and play deepening my relationship with my work as a Rolfer¬ģ and myself as a human being. It has been an intensely beautiful experience being here with a great many more twists and turns than I expected. Nonetheless I still find myself reverting back to the descriptor I’ve used the past 5 months when clients would ask what I was going to learn which is “It’s basically Rolfing Camp”.

And in many ways, it’s true. I just found this article by one of my classmates on the idea of Basics vs. Fundamentals (TL;DR – basics are easy and something you “get” and then are done learning them, fundamentals are primary ideas and skills that you can practice for the rest of your life). And in many senses of the word, I saw this Advanced Training course as a fundamentals class both for the students and the teachers. While the class for me was not tons of new information, it was a really good review and deepening of existing knowledge, getting to see it presented through the view of 30-year-veteran Rolfers which is something that never fails to leave me with new angles or ideas to think about.

The Basics of the Advanced

  • The training was held in the island city of Florian√≥polis, Brazil.
  • This was the first of two rounds of 3 week apiece, 4 days of class, 3 days off per week.
  • Class was taught by Lael Keen ¬†with Karen Lackritz assisting.

    Our classroom for the training

    Our classroom for the training

  • Lael and Karen taught primarily in English with a translator, Dieter, translating to Portuguese with assistance from the class, the majority of whom were at least bilingual in English and Portuguese.
  • There were 8 other students, 2 Americans and 6 Brazillians, all female. It made for a curious book-ending of this year with the Scarwork class I took in January and this class in November being cases of me in a class of all women.
  • The general format of class was covering material (feet, spine, anatomy, functional movement, practicing techniques, etc.) for the first 3 days each week, then watching both Lael and Karen do a demo of a full session on an outside client (two other Advanced Rolfers from the local area), then Thursday afternoon each week we traded a session with a classmate for a series of 3 sessions.

    MONKEYS

    ERMAGHERD, MONKEEES!!!

  • In my experience, Brazil has also been particularly amazing at feeding classes, so we had coffee/tea breaks in the morning and afternoon and for the class days we had hired a local chef, Tito, to prepare lunch as well.
  • There were monkeys at my house that would come begging for bananas. They only want bananas and will give you funny looks if you try to give them mango instead.

Structure and Function and Function and Structure

One of the first things I recall seeming important to Lael’s class plan, and one of the things that drew me back to Brazil, was a strong emphasis on the inter-connectedness¬†of structure and function. Or perhaps more accurately, a clarifying that structure and function exist in a co-dependent fashion and one cannot affect one independent of the other. While all the Rolfing training I have received has worked with form and function together, the trainings I have been to in Brazil somehow seem to take it a little deeper or make that relationship a bit more of a primary focus than some of the trainings in the US. And the primacy of it in this course helped me gain some better insights into when it might be more effective to start approaching¬†an issue with a structural intervention vs a functional one.

Mr. Bean, the class pet, attempting to establish dominance, or maybe just do some back work on me

Mr. Bean, the class pet, attempting to establish dominance, or maybe just do some back work on me

The deeper focus on relationship to the world as an influence¬†on¬†movement is another¬†of the big reasons I chose to come back to Brazil for my Advanced Training. In 2008, I had chosen Unit 3 training in Brazil in part because I expected the Movement Training to help me be a better dancer. It ended up leading me to entirely rethink my ways of teaching dance and create an approach that was radically different from how I’d learned to dance originally. And that energy of relationship was borne out in this class as well, with the techniques we practiced in the body leading to a broader question of “How does what we are doing help our clients or ourselves relate to the world?”

Lots of Review, Tidbits of New

In general I found the material to be more review and deepening of information I’d encountered before. Some of that may be that I took unit 3 from Jan Sultan who is one of Lael’s primary influences as a Rolfing instructor. Nonetheless, the training was a great chance to review, dive into material through a different instructor’s perspective, and pick up details I missed in prior trainings. In general I felt like I deepened my understanding of some fundamentals and picked up some good bits of information:

  • Ida Rolf used to carry a question for students of “Where would you work if you could only work on one spot in the body?” and her answer for herself was the 12th rib.
  • The lateral arches of the feet support the medial arches, Lael had some great anatomical slides and illustrations for this which I had not seen before.
  • A general review of spinal mechanics gave me some points about the vertebral facets to think about which I had lost track of somewhere in the last few years.
  • Time spent digging into the concept of hapticity (or the more-fun-to-say hapticidade in Portuguese), a sort of combination of sensing and moving at the same time and letting the two influence each other. One of those fundamental skills that I expect to be developing and deepening for the rest of my life.
  • Some new-to-me ideas from Lael about using interpersonal relational tactics to help clients integrate movement options into their interactions with the world.
  • We got a fairly high-level introduction to Ron Murray‘s ¬†work with Lemniscate ¬†movement which I haven’t explored much with clients, but am interested in exploring deeper at some point.

Third Week Openings

There is a curious energy that arises with these sort of longer-form trainings. I’ve only experienced it as a student so far, not as a teacher, so I don’t have a complete picture but there seems to be a quickening of transformation that occurs. I have often said that one of the things I loved about competing in dance was that involving the energy of a support crowd clapping and cheering can spur dancers on to a level they rarely or never achieve on their own. And I find something similar happens with Rolfing trainings as though the combined group’s energy supports us changing or growing in ways we might not have on our own.

This energy seemed to be in full swing by the third week of training. Lots of us were having some very deep and meaningful shifts in our ways of being. Some blossomed, some struggled, I experienced an incredibly vulnerable heart opening moment in front of the class where I’d pulled away from a similar moment in my Unit 2 training 7 years ago. One of the instructor demo sessions involved a client reliving the birth of her child via C-section and I cried as my own pelvis mimiced the release patterns of the woman on the table. Even the class format itself shifted mid-week to accomodate a need for more integration time amongst the bodies in the classroom.

Outro Lado – Welcoming The Other Side

In the final week of class I was thinking about how to identify a theme to the whole module and the words that came to mind were “outro lado”, Portuguese for “other side”. Those words stuck as a good descriptor for the shifts I had watched occur in myself, classmates, and even translators and teachers over the prior two weeks. Each of us delving into some other side of our personalities or our work that diverged from our normal preferences but brought us into a greater potential for balance and adaptability. And it came with a gentleness and acceptance that I could only put together as “Welcoming the Other Side”.

Living_room_mural

The house I rented during the traing happened to be owned by a local artist who had decorated the house with carvings, murals, and various canvases. The great feature mural of the house was one of the living room walls which boasted an entire wall painted with the mural above, reinforcing that idea of the other side for my experience of Brazil. On my last day in Brazil as we had breakfast and chatted about the house he mentioned that he had completed the mural in a day and had always wanted to go back and finish it. I shared the idea I had heard that a painting is never completed, you simply stop working on it (apparently the quote is typically translated “Art is Never Finished, Only Abandoned” – Leonardo DaVinci).

WatercolorWe diverged into discussing the course and how Rolfing is like watercolor in the sense that you take a stroke, then leave it alone for a while allowing the colors to bleed out into the person’s life, then repeating the process session by session. My host thought for a moment, then disappeared into his workshop as we were leaving, returning with this beautiful watercolor as a gift to mark our discussion. Being unprepared to transport paintings and having no suitably large books, I managed to get the painting safely home, tucked between the keyboard and screen of my laptop.

As I’m finishing this post it’s the beginning of January, just over a month since I boarded a plane home from Brazil. It seems at once very recent and yet long ago and far away that I was sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner with my classmates on the last day of class (yes, we graduated Round 1 on what would be Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.). Brazil took me deeper than I expected in directions I had not anticipated, but it has definitely left it’s mark in ways that continue to improve my work with clients and my relationship with my own body. I’m looking forward to further explorations, new inquiries, and super grateful to be returning for Round 2 in April!

Finishing the Training with Turkey

Finishing the Training with Turkey

One of the keystones of my growth as a Rolfer so far has been getting a sense of more tissues in addition to fascia and working with how they relate to each other. As I’ve grown more competent and comfortable with the variety in the body, I find my sense of the space between them growing deeper and more refined. So when I saw the listing for Thomas Walker and Gale Loveitt’s Explorations in Wholeness class it read like a class totally up my alley and a great way to deepen my use of those “spaces between the spaces”.

I did my Unit 2 basic Rolfing training with Thomas and he was a strong influence in developing the lighter side of my Rolfing touch and listening skills. The basic training in Rolfing was an excellent grounding in finding what this class might call “the hard stuff” muscles, bones and the like. Explorations in Wholeness added a depth for me of finding and feeling into “the soft stuff”, helping me find a way to contact softer parts of the tissue or anatomy more prone to hiding and finding ways to influence the body to connect more or to rediscover connections that past experience had disrupted in some fashion.

The essence of this class lay in working with various craniosacral rhythms. It’s not an area I particularly understand well nor am I sure the technical details would be helpful for everyone so I’ll relate it to my image of choice for the class which was ocean tides and waves. There are individual waves in the ocean breaking nearly every second on the shore, there is the cycle of high and low tide twice daily and in between these there is that middle cycle where the individual waves are washing higher or lower than the previous waves upon the beach every minute or two.

The work is… challenging to describe and honestly, my initial reaction was to resist naming it or calling it anything particular lest I narrow the potential of the work into some set box. That said, I also like to be able to communicate thing with more than just shrugging and saying “it seems to work” so I’ve tried to break out some ideas of how I describe this work to clients and how I might describe it to other practitioners.

For Clients

Every so often, as I grow as a practitioner, I encounter the idea that the ultimate goal is not for me to fix anyone, but for them to help engage their own healing mechanisms. Those are the kind of results I generally saw and felt with this work. Clients who I had worked with for several years seemed to notice me suddenly finding things at a deeper level, I honed in faster on where to put my hands with newer clients, and for my first week or two back almost everyone drifted to sleep at some point during their session.

I’ve also tried this work a few times with some very long-term clients and found it helps them access a level of strength and organization that they weren’t able to previously. I recently felt drawn to try a full session of this work with a client who I felt didn’t believe in her own inherent wholeness. The result was a deeply challenging session that stirred a lot of old feelings and hurts but several days later her whole sense of being had softened, she seemed more settled in her body, and some of her more kinetic energies had found a way to chill out.

From the client side, I think this work helps tap into a depth of calm in the nervous system that’s often hard to achieve in today’s world without going deep into the woods or far out to sea. It’s essentially providing a safe and supportive space for the brain to cool down and get out of the way and a sort of deep relaxation to come into play and help reorganize patterns of movement which in turn can build into lasting changes in how we hold and present ourselves and how we relate to our own stress.

For Practitioners

As I listened to the stories of Rolfers in this class I would say I found a theme of searching for something. A number of the newer Rolfers in the group talked about struggling to know what to do with clients where a number of those trained further back talked about looking for something softer, less “hammer and tongs” in our work. How to be effective when “mashing fascia” isn’t your bag or what to do when you don’t know what to do.

My impression going into the class was that this work would be a way to help bridge between layers, to work on the spaces between the spaces. And to be sure, there is a great deal of that in the work and it’s helped me find some ways into things, both structural stuckness and functional inhibitions that I didn’t have a tool for before when I was thinking of more specific tissues. In a fairly exacting sense, the work is about contacting fluid more than tissue, allowing not just for working into specific areas but also working with the uninterrupted wholeness of the body. It also involves a sort of stillness and patience that I find greatly aids in asking questions of the tissue and letting the body lead me into helping rather than feeling like I have to go in knowing where things need to move.

Fish-to-manIn a sense the work remains mysterious to me, albeit effective. I’ve struggled for several months to find an elegant way to say what I think I’m doing with this work currently but I finally hit on it in my first Advanced Training Module. I found myself wanting to do a full session of this work on a model client and since neither of the instructors were familiar with the work I was scrambling a little to describe just what in the hell I was after. The lead instructor, Lael Keen, had made several statements earlier in classes about working with ligamentous beds as “speaking to the dinosaur intelligence of the body”. Standing in front of the class trying to give an idea of the session I intended to do I finally came up with “I want to speak to the fish that existed long before the dinosaur”.

And Space to Grow…

Where many of the classes I have taken in my career have been fairly easy to describe, this work continues to almost defy my desire to describe it. It seems that I almost feel more effective in the work when I allow it to remain mysterious and exploratory rather than fixing a description or expectation to it. The essence of it seems to be in attention and allowing, skills that are at once inherent in all of us and yet can also be honed to greater depths or wider scopes. Thomas made mention several times of how after 20 years it still amazes him how a shift in himself can result in a deep change in a client.

While I do like¬†to be able to understand what I am doing when I put hands on a client¬†and why it works, I sometimes find myself eschewing understanding and¬†paraphrasing Arthur C. Clarke: Any sufficiently advanced technique is indistinguishable from magic. I don’t think this work is magic per se, but my short experience with it is that allowing it to seem magical made it more effective. The mystery allows space, the space allows exploration, and the exploration allow growth of skill to occur.

And in much the same way that the class focused on ease and allowing, the growth and integration into my work seemed to happen similarly. I’ve made pretty minimal effort to directly practice the work in the past few months but the last time I worked on one of my office-mates her immediate response was “You’re doing something really different. Your approach to the body has changed, like you’ve gotten out of your own way.” I suspect there is a great deal deeper I can go with this work but one of the things I really value about it is how it seems to blend across lines of different techniques and both deepen my current practice while also offering new avenues to explore and tools to continue exploring.

The title of this article is my Rule #1 that I give new dancers who are worried about being desirable to dance with. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that you have to be a great dancer to be fun to dance with and, in my experience, it’s simply not true. Some of my favorite and memorable dances are with total beginners who were just having so much fun that they couldn’t be bothered¬†to worry about whether they were doing it right or not. I generally tell people that if you can make the dance not suck, then it’s already in C+/B- territory and anything beyond that is gravy. And making it not suck is typically as simple as the following three factors.

It Sucks If It Hurts
It Sucks If It’s Creepy/Threatening
It Sucks If There’s a Weird Power Differential

Generally speaking, if it doesn’t suck it’s pretty good. You can be off-time, you can only have 2 moves, etc. and you can still be plenty¬†enjoyable to dance with. I tend to remember this best from a friend in tango who put it as something like “Sometimes it’s great to just walk”. To be clear, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have dances that suck once in a while, but if you keep these three things in mind, I think you’re already ahead of the game for being a delightful person to dance with.

It Sucks If It Hurts

no-painThis one seems simple and obvious, but it’s amazing sometimes how easy it is to forget. I see a lot of this as stemming from “I have to get the move right” style thinking with dancers, really at any level. Trying to forces moves or movements runs a high risk of doing something that doesn’t jive with yours or your partner’s body and worrying about making the move work or¬†end a certain way lends itself to forcing it. Yes, it’s lovely to hit that 32 count sequence just the way you thought or simply¬†finish a basic turn on time, but doing so at the expense of your body or your partner’s body kind of ruins the moment.

I work with this¬†in beginner lessons by building moves off of natural movement and teaching the dance with people moving together throughout rather than dividing leads and follows, teaching them a specific movements separately, and then pushing them back together and expecting them to suddenly match each other. While it can be more complex learning this way, it focuses the learning on partnership instead of individuals¬†and helps make lead/follow interaction the primary energy of the dance rather than footwork. If people are thinking about their feet first, they tend to lose sight of the fact that there’s another person attached to them. If you focus first on that human interaction, it’s much easier to avoid hurting each other or be aware of it and shift when it happens.

And to be clear, this can happen at any level and with both genders. I regularly hear complaints about painful leading from several male instructors in my area and I’ve chosen to stop dancing with one female instructor who routinely gripped my hand so hard that I would worry about having to work with it the next day. Pain or comfort are achievable at any level of dancing, choose comfort.

It Sucks If It’s Creepy/Threatening

no-creepingIn the context of dance I think this mostly translates to “don’t assume you have the right to anyone’s body, time, or social interaction”. It’s easy and rather enticing to say things like “the boundaries are just different in dance” but I believe this often¬†gets taken as “the rules of engagement around consent are different too”. The act of dancing with someone is just as much a negotiation as any other social interaction. The more it’s a balanced interaction where “no” is treated as a completely legitimate answer, the less likely this is to be an issue.

Again, I think this boils down to making the interaction human first and dance second. It’s easy when you’re in a new social environment to start to compromise on boundaries, particularly if you’re worried about seeing the other person on a regular basis. This may be different in other scenes, but I think the influence of Southern culture in my area means you often see people avoid challenging the few creepy apples at a dance because they would rather put up with the behavior than deal with a potential conflict. I don’t think there’s some singular right answer to this, but as we as a society are starting to talk about boundaries and consent more, I hope to see these conversations start happening one-on-one in the dance world more and hopefully enough of those will lead to some really great shifts.

It Sucks If There’s a Weird Power Differential

power-differentialThis is probably the most pervasive but also the most subtle one and therefore easier to overlook; enough so that I spent most of a year saying the first two make it not suck aspects before I thought of this. As much as we love to talk about equality and togetherness in the dance scene, there can also be a lot of hierarchy at play, partly real partly in our own heads. When you set up a perceived power differential between lead and follow or experienced dancer and newbie it makes the dance more about roles and less about humanity. It also makes it much easier for things like dancesplaining to occur and for dancers who feel they are in the less powerful position to be less likely to hold their boundaries if one of the first two ways of sucking occurs and less likely to speak out for what gives them joy in the dance.

I had lunch a couple days ago with a former dance student and we got talking about the challenges of this when he was a beginner. Now, for context, this is someone who routinely speaks in from of large groups of people and performs original songs in public; I consider him to be incredibly brave, creative, and very willing to engage with the challenges associated with growing in any skill. He told me that he found there tended to be two types of dancers offering him feedback as a newbie, those who’d ask if they could make a suggestion and others who would launch unprompted into critiquing his dancing or telling him “you know what you should do…” Watching him talk about it, I could even see his body shrink in on itself as he talked about the second type and the memory of being criticized.

Don’t get me wrong, criticism and understanding what and how to do things better is an important part of growing as a dancer. However, there’s a time and a place for it and more and less effective ways to communicate these concepts. I see lots of “better” dancers telling newer dancers what they should do without realizing that they are presenting the information in a way that widens the gap between them rather than bridging it. Ineffectively worded or improperly timed feedback like this tends to create a subtext messaging of “It’s not OK¬†for you to be new or learning; you should be better” and even without poor feedback this is the sort of message that I see a lot of people telling themselves.

It’s normal for there to be a difference in experience, you just don’t have to turn it into a difference in power or value. Feedback can be a tool to raise people up but it can also be a tool to bludgeon them into being less than. And again, this can happen at any level; there are several instructors in my scene who I routinely observe and receive complaints about dancesplaining through entire dances on the floor. When you drive this kind of wedge between yourself and your partner, it pretty much kills the team vibe of a dance partnership and turns it into two lonely people holding hands and doing moves at each other.

If It Doesn’t Suck, It’s Generally Pretty Good

There’s an old Woody Allen joke that pizza is like sex “Even when it’s bad it’s still pretty good”. While I like the idea of the joke, I think it’s a bit off the mark. I look at it through a bit more of a lens of pizza or dancing or sex don’t have to be the most amazing pizza/dance/sex I’ve ever had to be good, but if something sucks¬†there’s almost an addition of insult to injury that makes it all the worse. Having recently had the worst Chicken and Dumplings of my life a couple weeks ago, I can say that, like most comfort foods, when it’s decent¬†dance is kind of inherently good, but if you make it terrible it will irritate people enough that they’ll shut down from you, talk about it to their friends, or post about it on the internet.

At it’s core, partner dancing is a shared experience. So long as you aren’t doing any of the above and putting your partner or other dancers around you on guard then it becomes easy to step beyond¬†our standard social boundaries and create a shared experience. If the dance turns to suck in one form or another, then those boundaries tend to harden into barriers and both partners (and the floor around them) lose out on that social interaction.

Making it not suck also frees up a lot of energy and attention for learning. When something sucks, and even when it’s just a sucky feeling of your own creation through self-judgement, there is so much time and energy spent by the mind in either defending or reinforcing that sucky feeling that much less learning/growth occurs. When it doesn’t suck, there’s a lot more room for empowerment, for focus on the task being learned, and while not always completely safe there is a lot more safety available to take the risks and push into challenging territory that growth and learning requires.
dont-hurt-them

And the TL;DR version of all this, summed up much more succinctly by the Dalai Lama: “Our prime purpose in life is to help others. And if you can’t help them at least don’t hurt them.”

 

About a month and a half ago I ended my tenure running a dance studio and one week ago I finished cleaning out the office at The Lindy Lab. It was a dream I’d had for about 10 years and 3 years ago got the chance to try making it a reality. The greater reality turned out to be, not so much a nightmare, but more one of those weird confusing WTF dreams that just leave you questioning your own brain and feeling like you may not get back to sleep that night. So I’m moving on to other pursuits and wanted to put together a post to share my experience¬†so I can close out with friends and community on why I’m doing this and hopefully express something that may be useful to future folks walking a similar path.

TL;DR version: I took a moonshot on setting up a studio to try and spark transformation in my scene and found I couldn’t create or gather enough support or buy-in to make the idea sustainable for myself. After watching my own energy flag for close to two years,¬†I chose to get out before I soured on dance and did my best to leave the scene with a great space to create in.

What This Post Is and Isn’t

This will be, to the best of my ability, an honest telling of why I chose to move on. It was, in many ways, a difficult tenure and a difficult decision to leave and I don’t want to candy coat that. I also want to be clear that in trying to speak truthfully about my experiences, I am, for the most part, at peace with the past on this or actively working to making peace with it. There were a lot of frustrations and results that I will likely never fully understand the “why’s” but I have plenty of responsibility in that as well. I’m grateful that I got to take the chance I did and humbled by what I learned from it and will try to cleanly communicate both the positives and negatives that lead to this course of action.

Backstory

I’ve been dancing in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill swing scene since 2002. I grew up in this scene, took lessons from just about anybody and everybody who was teaching and grew immensely as a person through dance. I found a love of body mechanics in dancing that lead me into my career in Rolfing which, in turn, deeply affected my teaching. I had a longer term vision of buying an old church to forge¬†a mixed-use space to house both my Rolfing practice and some sort of dance/movement space. The Lindy Lab at Triangle Dance Studios was a way to test the concept in a rental situation before I considered buying a space. It was also intended to be a space for growth, creativity, and exploration in dancing which I felt had never been strongly offered in this area since I started dancing.

Creating a Space to Support the Dance

I’ve written before about the difficulties I had with the studio build. But suffice to say in the course of about 2 months I spent probably $10k and¬†400 or so hours of my own time plus a lot of friend’s man hours¬†building a space to raise the level of ambiance for our scene. It has significantly raised the bar for the studio that owns the space and nudged the owner to take some steps to improve all the other studio spaces there. I hear from the studio owner¬†that people rave about the studio but really nobody seeks me out to say thank you and there seems to be a general lack of care from other renters and dance scene for trying to care for the space. People tend to break things or move things out of sight and make no effort to replace or even note that they have broken things. It has helped me understand why the studio owners tend not to go all out on their spaces and the past year I’ve had the refrain of “this is why we can’t have nice things” in my head more times than I expected to. While I’m happy for the improved spaces for the scene and proud of what we built, it¬†ultimately seemed like people responded to a different space a bit, but not enough to affect their behavior towards taking greater care of the space.

Teaching From a Radically Different Head Space

To put it succinctly, I have taken a fundamentally different approach to teaching dance than any other instructor I have seen on the swing dance world stage. I took my training as a Rolfer and developed a way to help people find dance in their existing movements, using what they already know and treating dance as inherent rather than something that must be taught. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of faults as a teacher and I believe that pretty much every teacher out there does something better than I do. But I built my teaching to provide a base that would allow people to travel and learn readily, giving them a “first principles” base of knowledge to be able to fill in the gaps from things other teacher don’t say (or don’t know to say). I tended to receive comments from students who traveled that they rarely encountered an international teacher saying something about mechanics that they hadn’t heard from me already and I’d taught it more succinctly and accessibly.

Lack of Return Students

The response to classes was a somewhat baffling combination of intense appreciation coupled with lack of attendance. While I consistently received praise for the style of teaching and was told it made the dance far more accessible or made people comfortable in a way that nobody else had, such statements also frequently came from people showing up once and never returning. I also encountered a number of people choosing¬†to take from an instructor who was closer even if they felt they got less from that instructor. I’ve been over this many times with friends and fellow dancers and we’ve never really been able to determine if people couldn’t tell the difference in the quality of material or simply had other priorities or goals. But frankly it was disheartening to find myself teaching someone how to do another instructor’s material without it hurting them or their partner (when prior instructors had just shrugged at or been completely oblivious to the pain) and then have those students just head back to previous instructors. I had some really great engaged students 2-3 years ago, but somewhere in the past year and a half that seemed to disappear and a sustained lack of excited students eventually wore down my excitement for teaching.

Did Not Play Well With Other Instructors

I had high hopes going in but found it pretty much untenable to work with any other local instructors. Where I had expected collaboration I more often ran into passive-aggressive silence and where I tried to show respect to former teachers I mostly saw them reference me as someone they taught, oblivious to the fact that I spent the middle 5 years of my dancing career unlearning habits from them in order to be the dancer I am today. Suffice to say I’d seen some of the drama and instructor bullshit coming up in this scene and had hoped to change the conversation. In the course of several years, I feel like was wholely unsuccessful and ended up being just as bad. Some of the standard instructor power trips in the dance world are hot button issues for me and I hoped to set an example or talk to other instructors in a way that would help, but when I didn’t get far I got frustrated and started getting on my own little petty tyrant power trip.

I’m quite sure I was as much of a pain in the ass to other instructors as they were to me and I just generally found that it was more effort than benefit to work with anyone who I hadn’t trained. I would have liked to have things turn out differently but I’ll echo a sentiment I heard time after time the last few years that the instructors (and I include myself in this) are some of the most off-putting people in the scene and one of the primary reasons that more people don’t step up to help. I was fortunate enough to have some friends willing to kick my ass about it when I was making things ugly and I already find my interactions with people being lighter as I’ve basically removed myself from any need to be in contact with that energy.

Timing Suuuuucked

In general, I think there was also a strong element of timing to all of this. Attendance rose and fell but seemed to be in an overall decline in general for the last 4 years or so, even before I started Lindy Lab. Options like Groupon and Living Social seem to have run their course in this area so options that used to provide quick boosts to prior studios didn’t amount to much. In general, it seems like this area is in a bit of a dip in terms of advanced dancers getting more into jobs or marriages or whatever as well so while that core hasn’t disappeared it has become less consistent week to week than it was a few years ago. It does seem to be starting to uptick as I’m handing things off, so I’m heartened, but generally I felt like I spent so much keeping things going through a trough in the cycle that I stopped having much interest in sticking around to push things back uphill once the cycle picked up again. And, on a personal level, add in things like a multi-year house renovation and a 5 year career overhaul and by this past spring I felt pretty certain I wasn’t going to have anything left to give if I kept going.

Deciding to Quit

All these factors came together earlier this year to culminate in a decision to quit. I say I’m quitting because I’m trying to take ownership of that word. It’s a word I haven’t been comfortable with as long as I can remember and I think it’s about time to redefine it for myself. I’ve spent many years in my life holding onto situations, activities, and relationships where I was not getting back the energy I put in and I’ve slowly come to understand that that just doesn’t serve me long term. So, having given it a good 3 years, trying as many angles and tactics as I could without completely tanking myself, I’ve decided to quit with as much integrity as I can and move on to other pursuits.

Space to Grow

Ultimately I am quitting both to create space for myself and to create space for The Lindy Lab. If I had continued to head the studio, I believe it would have taken me an awfully long time to rebound even if it had been possible. Stepping back and turning it over to a committee of committed and excited dancers creates much more space for LL to grow again. It also frees me up to focus on aspects that I did enjoy, namely teaching and special events. And frankly, I find I’m greatly happier having my evenings free to spend with friends, fix up my house, cook, read, etc. The person I’ve been trying to be for several years now has arrived much more readily by creating space than it did by pursuing achievement. The Lindy Lab was an amazing vehicle for me to grow and learn and, for a time, to spread some Lindy Love to some wonderful people and I look forward to seeing it grow and change under new leadership.

The Hopeful Aftermath

I spent a lot of my past year wondering if I was just in the way. And while I don’t think it will just completely rebound, it does seem that attendance has already started to pick up as we’ve worked through handing things off over the past two months. There is definitely space for someone excited and motivated to jump in and start teaching Lindy in the area and the workload is already being spread better than I ever managed to do it.

I just had a former dance student who travels and lectures on education tell me he presents some of my teaching tactics all over the country to great success. A Rolfer in Portland who I was talking to about teaching asked me excitedly if I would be willing to share a workshop on how I teach dance. So it seems that whether I decide to teach again or not, some of the key tenants that I wanted to get out to the world are getting out.

And perhaps simply put, I think I’ve finally managed to swap out “Try to change the world and hopefully that will make me happy” for “Let myself by happy and see how the world shifts”.

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